“Wave” as a blues. Reverse engineering Jobim’s classic.

  • Part One

This is intended as a method of soloing over “Wave” by approaching it as a jazz blues instead of as a series of unrelated chords! For any instrument, not just bass!

I played Jobim’s “Wave” many times before I realised that the A section is a jazz blues in disguise. This came to me one night when I soloed over it without thinking about the chord changes.

I wondered if everyone else already knew that but me. I asked a lot of my musician friends and only two of them said “yes’, and I think one of them was lying! Of course, you may already know this , in which case there is no need to read further.

If you are still reading we’ll take a look at this. Wave has a typical AABA form, but the first clue is that the three A sections are 12 bars long, instead of the typical 8 bars.

Let’s listen to the A section played in a swing style. I entered the chord progression in Band In A Box and selected a Basie style combo to illustrate this, but to me this is clearly a blues when played in any swing or shuffle style.

For this video I have notated the chords on the top line. The simple key centres are on the second line. The chords as numerals are on the third line. No need to read them ,but, if you want to read them, there are three choruses, or one for each line.

Take a listen


I hope you can now hear this as a jazz blues! If you can, from now on you will never be able to unhear it this way!

How does this help us? As a bassist I generally play the roots as written, but hearing this section as a blues opens up a whole spectrum of possibilities when soloing. With discretion we can be free to use almost any combination of jazz blues substitute chords for solo ideas over the “Wave” changes! Scroll down to Part Three for an example!

Conversly it’s also it’s fun to take some of Jobim’s changes and use them when soloing on a jazz blues!

Part one A.

Let’s look at the disguises that distract us from hearing Wave as a blues. The obvious distraction is that we are not used to hearing a blues bossa nova! To examine the harmonic disguises, the first two bars are critical. If it were a standard blues we would expect a D7 in the first bar, not a maj 7.

Then we are immediately distracted from a standard blues by the Bbo in the second bar. But the Bbo is functioning as A7b9 with a Bb root, or a quick V chord.



In a jazz blues context it can be regarded as a quick II V.



Bars 5 & 6 take us to the IV chord, again disguised by avoiding the use of the typical blues b7. Bars 7 & 8 take us back to the key centre of D by starting a cycle of 4th’s progression from the III chord ( III VI II V) with bars 9 & 10 falling in place for a typical blues II V turnaround resolving to the I. The quick Bb7 in bar 10 is a typical blues adornment and also a nice reference back to the Bbo in bar two, opening up similar harmonic possibilities. Note that Jobim further disguises the core blues harmony by using non diatonic chords ( F# and E major instead of minor). For soloing a D major chord can substitute for the F# in bar 7.

Ignoring the musical diguises we can see the roots of the 12 bar progression as

I , II V , V , I, …. IV, IV, III, VI, ….. II, V , I , I .

If you’ve stayed with this so far I’m sure you have other ideas! Now stop thinking and have fun!

Joe Hubbard has an excellent video at Joe Hubbard “Rants & Raves- Episode 8 (with “Wave” )

Short video version of part one.

Part Three. ~ Jobim. Bird & Toots.

I am guessing that the chord progression for the A section of “Wave” (recorded 1967) is at least partly derived from Charlie Parker’s “Blues For Alice” (1951) . Toots Thielemans used the “Blues For Alice” changes for his composition ” Bluesette” in 1961 and there could be little doubt that Jobim was familiar with one or both or these compositions.

Compare and decide for yourself, then scroll down for a short video of a solo using the “Blues For Alice” chords over the “Wave” chords.

Solo using “Charlie Parker’s “Blues For Alice” chords over Jobim’s “Wave”. I am soloing using the chords to “Blues For Alice” notated in the top line of the captions. The backing track uses Jobim’s chords to “Wave” notated in the lower line of the captions.

Video of Parts 1 & 2

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